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Pairing The Odd Couple

If you think brand advertisers don't grasp the YouTube opportunity, think again. Ad networks and agencies get it, too. They all know the cash potential is there.

So what is keeping brand managers from diving into that enormous pool of high user engagement called social media?

All three parties will respectively admit, exclaim, or explain: YouTube and all the other social media sites out there that source their content from their users are, well, scary.

What's the big deal?

Pairing advertising and social media makes sense. Brand managers want to make an impression on users.

YouTube, for instance, is a gold mine of impressions. Its users stay engaged on the site for nearly 28 minutes per visit, according to Nieslen//NetRatings.

But even more than making an impression, brand managers want control over the kinds of impressions they make, Chris Actis, vice president of advertising agency MRM Partners, told internetnews.com.

"Advertisers are used to communicating out to consumers and so they are reluctant to let go of the control of their messaging," Actis said.

"When you advertise on the periphery of a site like MySpace or YouTube, you have to accept that your brand may be bumped up against some content that might not be within the brand guidelines."

That is a prospect that terrifies brand managers, said Forrester Research Analyst Brian Haven.

"If I've got a tried-and-true brand that's been around for decades, I don't want to find it hanging out with some video of a kid jumping off his roof and hurting himself," Haven told internetnews.com.

So what, exactly, are brand managers to do?

They could always ignore the social media phenomenon and dote on more familiar and perhaps more malleable media outlets, such as television, print and radio.

But the pairing of advertisers and social media makes sense. And to ignore it would be a mistake.

YouTube grew its monthly unique audience 297 percent from January to June this year, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. And MySpace is the most popular destination on the Internet, according to Hitwise.

It's hard to ignore these numbers. And top that off with the fact that brand advertisers' target demographic -- 18 to 25 year olds – pretty much don't read the newspapers or watch much network television anymore.

Trying to get over the conundrum

The good news is that there are some case studies already under way that might present options for brand managers and the social media sites that want their money.

A few of the experiments give off the leather and cigar smoke aroma of old media.

Time Warner's AOL property announced its own user-generated video portal, called AOL UnCut Video, late last month with advertisers such as bellwether Proctor and Gamble already on board.

AOL also announced licensing partnerships with old-school content providers, such as A&E, MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

Vice President for AOL Video Fred McIntyre told internetnews.com that you'll find the brand advertising next to their productions.

"At the top of the spectrum," he said.

AOL's idea to shelter user-generated content with "safer" TV content isn't new. Earlier this summer, YouTube made a similar deal with NBC.

But there's little evidence to support the idea that sites such as YouTube are popular because of professionally produced, editorially controlled, licensed content.

YouTube made its 297 percent before the NBC deal.

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